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Professor at Texas Woman's University, editor of LIBRARIANS' CHOICES, avid reader, movie lover, and zealous traveller
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26. Celebrating Seuss


It's always fun to celebrate Dr. Seuss! Crystal H. has created a fun video reading of the poem, "Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss" by Carole Gerber in honor of Dr. Seuss and Read Across America Day (March 2). (Can you hear the dog barking? I think Dr. Seuss would have loved that!) Check it out:



For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

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27. Celebrating All Kinds of Kids and Friends


This is the week for the annual conference of the Texas Library Association and today I'm leading the 11th annual Poetry Round Up-- always a popular session. In honor of our 11th anniversary, I'm hosting 11 poets too: Jorge Argueta, Brian Rock, Leslie Bulion, J. Patrick Lewis, George Ella Lyon, Kenn Nesbitt, Micol Ostow, K.A. Holt, Nancy Bo Flood, Janet Wong, and illustrator Don Tate reading from his new book, Poet. (Lee Wardlaw was scheduled to come, but has had to postpone till next time.) Of course, I'll bring a full report (and maybe videoclips) later on this blog. Meanwhile, here's another poem-plus-video to enjoy!

Renee M. LaTulippe provides today's marvelous poem, "Friends," in honor of International Day of Persons with Disabilities (held every December 3). Joni H. has organized this video and features two young readers who really capture the spirit of the poem including their own drawings and a bit of discussion in response to the poem.
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For more information about International Day of Persons with Disabilities sponsored by the United Nations, click HERE.  

For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.


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28. Celebrating Girls and Women and Poetry


Just last month (in March), we paused to celebrate the contributions of girls and women during National Women's History Month. And of course we have a poem honoring girls and women in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations. Jeannine Atkins penned that powerful poem entitled, "A Long Time Ago." Here you can see and hear a young leader of the future reading the poem aloud, complete with pink beret, big glasses, and puppy dog! Monica C. has orchestrated this video and even incorporates terrific images of real and active women and girls.


For the official website of the National Women's History Project, click HERE.

For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.


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29. April 12-18, 2015: Celebrating the Week of the Young Child


April is a BIG month! As you've probably already noticed, it's both National Poetry Month AND Arab American Heritage Month. Plus, we have National Library Week and at the same time (this year), the official "Week of the Young Child"-- April 12-18, 2015. In celebration of early childhood, we have a wonderful poem in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations entitled, "I'm Bigger" written by Kristy Dempsey from the child's point of view.
Here's one school's celebration of the Week of the Young Child: 



If you'd like more information about the official celebration of the Week of the Young Child sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), click HERE.
For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.



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30. April 12: Celebrating D.E.A.R. Day

In my opinion, it's perfect that DEAR Day occurs during National Library Week this year! What is "DEAR Day," you ask? It's a day to Drop Everything and Read (D. E. A. R.), of course! And we have a poem to celebrate, " “Stop! Let’s Read” by Kristy Dempsey from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations. In addition, Suzy G. has corralled several 7th and 8th graders and filmed them reading this fabulous poem in English AND Spanish (and in the library!). Click HERE to check that out! 

For more information about DEAR Day held every year on April 12 (TODAY!), click HERE. (Yes, there is a dedicated website for this!)

For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

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31. April 12-18, 2015: Celebrating National Library Week


It’s time for a real-time holiday celebration: National Library Week (April 12-18) which starts tomorrow! Since I teach in a library school, this is a BIG DEAL at our house! And I hope library lovers everywhere are pausing to celebrate the fact that we have a place to go for free books, storytimes, Internet access and so much more! For more information about National Library Week, click HERE.

Just for fun, check out this clever video that the Allen County Public Library created to celebrate National Library Week. It’s a clever, crazy trail of books falling down like dominoes.

Our poem for National Library Week (in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations) is “My Place to Fly” penned by Ted Scheu and we’ve created a Pocket Poem card for it. You’ll find it below and on Pinterest!
For this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

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32. Celebrating Poetry and Pizza


It’s Friday! Time for pizza! The second day of the year officially kicks off National Pizza Week. To celebrate that holiday (or pizza on any day), share “Pizza Week Menu” by Michelle Schaub (from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations). Here, adorable Josephine reads the poem aloud complete with multiple pizza props!


Thanks to (student and mom) Veronica W. for organizing this video (and procuring the pizzas, I’m guessing!). For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

Meanwhile, poet and author Laurie Purdie Salas is hosting our Poetry Friday gathering this week over at Writing the World for Kids—just click HERE. See you there!

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33. Celebrating our Ancestors


Today we look back and remember those who have come before us. In The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, we feature The Day of the Dead which is celebrated on November 1 or 2. Here, spunky fifth grader, Alyssa, offers a very expressive reading of the poem for this day, "On the Day of the Dead" by by René Saldaña, Jr. 



Thanks to Amy G. for orchestrating this reading and video! For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.
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34. Celebrating Poetry, Beeps, and Fire Safety


One of the things that made a deep impression on my children as they were growing up was learning about what to do in case of a fire. We learned about having a plan, exiting a bedroom safely, designating a meeting place outside our home—just in case-- and all about “stop, drop, and roll.” This is a scary prospect for children (and for all of us), but it helps to be prepared. In the poem, “Beep, Beep, Beep” by Suzy Levinson from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, we can give kids an informative AND playful way to learn key steps. Here Thais G. has recruited a lively teenager to read the poem and then provides a read-along text for participation too—complete with BEEP BEEP BEEP alarm!


The second week of October is designated as Fire Prevention Week every year. For more information about celebrating this week, testing smoke alarms, applying for an educator grant, and even sending e-cards featuring Sparky the Fire Dog (who was created in 1951), click HERE. And for the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

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35. April 7: Celebrating Metric System Day


What do the United States, Liberia and Burma have in common? We are the only countries in the world that do NOT use the metric system for measurement in everyday life! (Of course it is used in the U.S. for many things like scientific work, medical care and international trading.) In Heidi Bee Roemer’s poem, “Just Weight,” from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, kids can learn a bit more about how these two measurement systems compare. Seven-year-old Lily reads the poem in this fun video created by Lisa P. complete with heaps of fun hippo photos! Celebrate Metric System Day TODAY with this fun poem.


For the full text of both of these poems and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. And for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.



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36. Celebrating Poems, but not Germs


Did you know there is a day dedicated to promoting hand washing around the world? Yep, it’s Global Handwashing Day on October 15 designed to prevent diseases and save lives. Here’s a link. Did you know? The first Global Handwashing Day was held in 2008, when over 120 million children around the world washed their hands with soap in more than 70 countries.” I’ve even seen a clever PSA commercial with people saying repeatedly in rapid-fire succession, “I washed my hands with soap.” To help promote this ideal, we included the fun and engaging poem, “Bubbles” by Jacqueline Jules to celebrate Global Handwashing Day in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations. Here Rachel C. has recruited young Garrett to perform this poem too (complete with antibacterial prop!):


For the full text of this poem, Take 5 activities, and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.


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37. Celebrating Easter and Passover


In The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, we feature poems for Easter and Passover along with activities to help introduce each poem and learn more about these celebrations and traditions. For example, Buffy Silverman's poem describes the special family Passover dinner with the tradition of hiding the afikomen. The Take 5 activities provide a link to a short Sesame Street video with actor Jake Gyllenhaal explaining this tradition. Click HERE for that fun link.

For Easter, Stephanie Hemphill's poem features an egg tapping contest that is a tradition found in many cultures across the globe. Here's a fun video of that tradition in action:


For the full text of both of these poems and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. And for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.


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38. April: Celebrating Arab American Heritage Month


<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE <![endif]--> In The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, we feature DAYS, WEEKS, and whole MONTHS of celebration, too. We've already showcased December 10: Dewey Decimal Day; April 2: International Children's Book Day; and 2nd Week of February: Random Acts of Kindness Week. Today, we're featuring Arab American Heritage Month-- the month of April.

We're so pleased to feature poems by Palestinian American poet, Ibtisam Barakat, who has her own YouTube channel of poem readings here Here is her original poem in celebration of Arab American Heritage Month from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations. You can listen to her read the poem aloud by clicking here and see it translated into Arabic here. Cool, right?


For a lovely note with more information and details from Ibtisam, click here.
And here are the Take 5! activities that accompany this poem in the book:
  1. Introduce the idea that tree-planting traditions are found around the world from Arbor Day to Christmas to the Tree Day Celebration in Arab countries, India, and elsewhere. Then read the poem aloud with a pause between stanzas.
  2. Work with children to plan a dramatic interpretation of the poem, with two volunteers (one as child, one as tree) pantomiming the planting, measuring, sleeping, and sharing stories while you read it aloud again. 
  3. Share planting experiences (of trees, bushes, flowers, etc.) and talk about the steps involved.
  4. Pair this poem with the picture book Sequoia by Tony Johnston (Roaring Brook, 2014). Explore the tree’s point of view and note what the tree sees.
  5. For another poem about a special tree, look for “Christmas Tree” by Joseph Bruchac (December, pages 326-327), and share more tree poems from Poetrees by Douglas Florian (Simon & Schuster, 2010.
For this poem and 155 more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. And for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.
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39. Celebrating Snow, Kindness & Poetry


It’s Poetry Friday and the perfect day to share another poem from The POETRY FRIDAYAnthology for Celebrations—named after this fabulous tradition. Today’s poem actually features a holiday from February. It’s Random Acts of Kindness Week, the second week of every February. For more info on this celebration, click HERE. In The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, we feature DAYS, WEEKS, and whole MONTHS of celebration, too. You'll see examples of each throughout this month's postings.

Elna R. has recruited several kids to perform Eileen Spinelli’s poem, “How to Love Your Little Corner of the World” all set in their snow-filled neighborhood!


And just for fun, Elna shares the “blooper reel” showing their mistakes and giggles which is almost as much fun as the poem performance! Enjoy them both.


For this poem and 155 more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. And for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

And don’t miss the Poetry Friday fun over at Amy LV’s Poem Farm. See you there!

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40. Celebrating International Children's Book Day


It’s April 2 and it’s officially International Children’s Book Day. Since 1967, on or around Hans Christian Andersen's birthday on April 2, International Children's Book Day (ICBD) is celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children's books all around the world.

Each year a different National Section of International Board on Books for Young People sponsors the day. They pick a theme and create a special poster to celebrate the day. A prominent author from the host country writes a message to the children of the world and a well-known illustrator designs the poster. Many countries have nation-wide celebrations. This year’s poster is created by the IBBY section of the United Arab Emirates. 

The video for today was created by Ashley W. and showcases the poem, “Books” by Nancy White Carlstrom from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations. Here’s the "poemovie" featuring two young readers reciting "Books" against a background of library shelves FULL of books-- first in English and then in Spanish-- complete with proud smiles at the end!


For this poem and 155 more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. And for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

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41. Celebrating National Poetry Month in April AND December

April is National Poetry Month and I have big plans for daily posts for you! This year, I'm featuring short videos that my students created of children reading poems (and posted with their permission). All of these poems come from my new book with Janet Wong and 100+ other poets: The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations: Holiday Poems for the Whole Year in English & Spanish. Many of the poems and videos feature holidays from April and I'll post those examples on the actual dates during April. But some of these poems showcase holidays from other days and months of the year (like this one from December) and I'll include many of those too-- and make it clear which poem is for which holiday on which date. 

First up, is this poem for December 10: Dewey Decimal Day!

Elizabeth Steinglass wrote the poem, "Looking for a Book" to celebrate Dewey Decimal Day (and books and libraries year-round) and Donna W. created this video featuring two adorable girls acting out and reciting the poem. Here it is:


For this poem and 155 more, order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HEREAnd for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

Share a poem, read a book, and visit the library-- with kids you care about!



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42. Something to celebrate

In my opinion, there is almost always something to celebrate! Just ask my kids who have enjoyed half-birthdays and even "sister of half-birthday boy" occasions! Any excuse for a special meal, cupcakes, song, or a party! Planned or spontaneous, big or little, let's have more fun together. And if you spend any time at all with young children, you know they revel in discovering and celebrating the fun, odd, interesting things they're learning about every day. So, it's no surprise that I have loved being part of producing the latest installment in our POETRY FRIDAY series of anthologies: The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations. It was so fun to research the various occasions that are featured in that book, to work with Janet (Wong, my partner in celebration) to curate the perfect poem for each day, week or month, and to think about how to engage kids in experiencing each poem.  

But you may not know that each of our books (in the Teacher/Librarian edition) also features some front and back matter that we hope will help the adult reader with tips, lists, and guidelines on selecting and sharing poetry with all kinds of kids. For example, we always include a bibliography of OTHER poetry books that are connected to the topic of the book, so we can get kids reading even MORE poetry!

In the back of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, you'll find a list of other poetry books full of occasional poems and poems for various holidays and celebrations. Here is that list just for you.

POETRY BOOKS ABOUT CELEBRATIONS
Whether it’s Christmas, Halloween, Mother’s Day, President’s Day, or another occasion, sharing a poem can make for a memorable moment. Here is a selection of books with poetry for children about a variety of celebrations. 

Ada, Alma Flor and Campoy, Isabel. 2015. Días y Días de Poesía: Developing Literacy through Poetry and Folklore
Andrews, Julie and Hamilton, Emma Walton. Eds. 2012. Julie Andrews’ Treasury for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year.
Brown, Calef. 2010. Hallowilloween: Nefarious Silliness
Carlstrom, Nancy White. 2002. Thanksgiving Day at Our House: Poems for the Very Young.
Farrar, Sid. 2012. The Year Comes Round: Haiku through the Seasons
Ghigna, Charles and Ghigna, Debra. 2000. Christmas Is Coming! 
Ghigna, Charles. 2003. Halloween Night: Twenty-One Spooktacular Poems. 
Grimes, Nikki. 2002. Under the Christmas Tree. 
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 2004. Christmas Presents: Holiday Poetry
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 2004. Hanukkah Lights: Holiday Poetry
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 2005. Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 2005. Valentine Hearts: Holiday Poetry.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 2014. Manger. 
Hopkins, Lee. Bennett. Ed. 2010. Sharing the Seasons. 
Janeczko, Paul. Ed. 2014. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems
Jules, Jacqueline. 2001. Clap and Count! Action Rhymes for the      Jewish Year
Lewis, J.  Patrick. 2007. Under the Kissletoe: Christmastime Poems
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2009. Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of  of the School Year. 
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2013. World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You've Never Heard Of. 
Mak, Kam. 2001. My Chinatown: One Year in Poems
Mora, Pat. 2001. Ed. Love to Mamá: A Tribute to Mothers
Mora, Pat. 2008. Join Hands: The Ways We Celebrate Life
Muth, Jon. J. 2014. Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons
Nesbitt, Kenn & Linda Knaus. 2006. Santa Got Stuck in the Chimney.
Newman, Lesléa. 2014. Here Is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays. 
Orozco, José Luis. 2004. Fiestas: A Year of Latin American Songs and Celebrations
Prelutsky, Jack. 2007. It’s Thanksgiving!  
Prelutsky, Jack. 2008. It’s Christmas! 
Raczka, Bob. 2010. Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys. 
Raczka, Bob. 2014. Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole.  
Salas, Laura Purdie. 2008. Shrinking Days, Frosty Nights: Poems about Fall.
Sidman, Joyce. 2009. Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors.
Sidman, Joyce. 2013. What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings. 
Singer, Marilyn, 2012. Every Day's a Dog's Day: A Year in Poems.
Sklansky, Amy E. 2004. Skeleton Bones & Goblin Groans: Poems for Halloween
Swaim, Jessica. 2010. Scarum Fair
Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2011. Gift Tag
Whitehead, Jenny. 2007. Holiday Stew: A Kid’s Portion of Holiday and Seasonal Poems
Yolen, Jane and Peters, Andrew Fusek. Eds. 2007. Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry.
Yolen, Jane and Peters, Andrew Fusek. Eds. 2010. Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems.  
Ziefert, Harriet. 2008. Hanukkah Haiku. 

For the month of April, I will be featuring short videos of children reading some of the poems from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations. These were produced by my amazing graduate students and shared with their permission. We even have one BLOOPER reel!  So stop by next week and throughout April for this fun celebration of National Poetry Month. 
In the mean time, if you need more information about the book (and you missed it in the 1000 places I've been tooting that horn), here you go:

It's the FOURTH book in the Poetry Friday Anthology series! It’s The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Teacher/Librarian Edition and Student/Children’s Edition). You’ll find poems for 156 holidays in English and Spanish, including: Random Acts of Kindness Week, Children’s Book Week, World Laughter Day, National Camping Month, International Literacy Day, Global Hand Washing Day, and more! 

Poets include: Jack Prelutsky, J. Patrick Lewis, Joyce Sidman, Margarita Engle, Marilyn Singer, Nikki Grimes, Alma Flor Ada, F. Isabel Campoy, Ibtisam Barakat, Uma Krishnaswami, Francisco X. Alarcón, Linda Sue Park, Jane Yolen, Kenn Nesbitt, Jorge Argueta, Grace Lin, Joseph Bruchac, Douglas Florian, Laura Purdie Salas, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, and 95 others.

Get your copy of the Teacher/Librarian Edition (with mini-lessons) here:
Amazon
QEP Books

Get your copy of the Student/Children's Edition (poems only) here:
Student/Children's Edition
Amazon
QEP Books

You can find more info at:
PomeloBooks.com
PoetryCelebrations.com 

Plus, check out our new boards at Pinterest where we have poem visuals for each of our books. Just look for Pomelobooks (one word) at Pinterest.com.

Speaking of Poetry Friday, head on over to Jone's place for more poetry goodness!

Image credits: pomelobooks.com;churchgoers.com;shorpy.com


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43. PFA #4! The Poetry Friday for Celebrations

I’m excited to announce the publication of the FOURTH book in the Poetry Friday Anthology series! It’s The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations  (Teacher/Librarian Edition and Children’s Edition) compiled with the amazing Janet Wong. You’ll find poems for 156 holidays in English and Spanish, including: Random Acts of Kindness Week, Children’s Book Week, World Laughter Day, National Camping Month, International Literacy Day, Global Hand Washing Day, and more! 


Poets include: Jack Prelutsky, J. Patrick Lewis, Joyce Sidman, Margarita Engle, Marilyn Singer, Nikki Grimes, Alma Flor Ada, F. Isabel Campoy, Ibtisam Barakat, Uma Krishnaswami, Francisco X. Alarcón, Linda Sue Park, Jane Yolen, Kenn Nesbitt, Jorge Argueta, Grace Lin, Joseph Bruchac, Douglas Florian, Laura Purdie Salas, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, and 95 others. 

And did I mention that every poem is presented in both English AND Spanish? We are so excited to offer this additional access point for even more future poetry lovers!

As usual, the Teacher/Librarian Edition contains "Take 5!" activities, but this time we include picture book pairings for every poem and extra tips for sharing, plus booklists, and (CCSS, TEKS, and NCSS) skills charts. We removed all that "adult stuff" from the Children's Edition and inserted illustrations. Both are available on Amazon and QEPBooks.com (best if you need to use a purchase order). 

Teacher/Librarian Edition
available from Amazon
available from QEP Books

Student Edition
available from Amazon
available from QEP Books

You can find more info at:

FYI: the Children's Book Council chose The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations as one of its "Hot Off the Press" titles for March! We are so excited about this honor. 

In honor of the first day of spring TODAY, here’s a poem from the Celebrations book along with the accompanying Take 5! activities. Thank you, Jane Lichtenberger Patton for sharing this gem. Enjoy!

I’ll be featuring student-made videos based on MANY of the poems in the Celebrations book throughout National Poetry Month in April, so please swing by again then. Plus, we’ll have more info about our other online resources too!

And for an opportunity to win a free copy of the Celebrations book, check out Janet Carey’s blog post here.

And just in case you missed them, the previous three installments in the Poetry Friday Anthology series include: 

Meanwhile, don’t forget to join the Poetry Friday gathering where Catherine is hosting at Reading to the Core.

Finally, this is my blog's 700th post since its beginning in 2006. Whoa! That feels good, too!



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44. BOOK LINKS: Diverse Verse

The January issue of BOOK LINKS features multicultural literature, as usual, and this time my column focuses on novels in verse with the clever title (thank you, Gillian) of “Diverse Verse.” Here’s a chunk of that piece which you’ll find in its entirety here

With roots in ancient epic poetry, the verse novel or novel in verse, continues to grow in popularity, particularly with tween and teen readers. A narrative unfolds poem by poem, frequently with multiple points of view, plenty of dialogue, and in colloquial language. The best verse novels are built on poems that are often lovely stand-alone works of art. The novel in verse form offers the generous white space, short lines, and conversational tone that young readers who are still developing their comprehension expertise find helpful. This format is wooing many young people both to poetry and to reading in general—a promising trend.
Add to this the emergence of more diverse perspectives in the creation of verse novels with many new poets to know. In his essay for The New York Times in March 2014, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” Walter Dean Myers, author of several novels in verse, talks about his own development as a reader and a writer. He describes the turning point for him as follows: Then I read a story by James Baldwin: “Sonny’s Blues.” I didn’t love the story, but I was lifted by it, for it took place in Harlem, and it was a story concerned with black people like those I knew. By humanizing the people who were like me, Baldwin’s story also humanized me. The story gave me a permission that I didn’t know I needed, the permission to write about my own landscape, my own map.” This “permission” has ushered in a whole new generation of diverse verse novelists.
In the last five years, we have seen an explosion in the publication of novels in verse, particularly written by poets offering rich, diverse experiences. They’ve received Newbery recognition (e.g., The Surrender Tree), as well as Printz, Schneider, Batchelder, Coretta Scott King, and Pura Belpre distinctions. Seeking out poets that reflect parallel cultures with many diverse viewpoints enables us to show young readers both the similarities and the differences that make the human landscape so dynamic and interesting. These poets are using the language, experiences, and images of their cultures in ways that are fresh and powerful. The special succinctness of poetry is also an appealing introduction into culture for students. Sometimes powerful points about prejudice, identity, and cultural conflict can be made in a very few words. In addition, we can also rediscover our human universality in the words and feelings of poems that cross cultural boundaries. These poets speak of their lives, of their color, of their humanity, of their humor. Some write in dialect, some use rhyme, some focus on racial pride, some share emotional universals; readers of all cultural backgrounds deserve to know their names and read their works.
Diverse Novels: An annotated bibliography
  1. Alexander, Kwame. 2014. The Crossover. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  2. Brown, Skila. 2014. Caminar. Candlewick.
  3. Burg, Ann. 2013. Serafina’s Promise. Scholastic. 
  4. Cheng, Andrea. 2013. Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet. Lee & Low.
  5. Clark, Kristin Elizabeth. 2013. Freak Boy. Macmillan.
  6. Crossan, Sarah. 2013. The Weight of Water. Bloomsbury.
  7. Crowe, Chris. 2014. Death Coming Up the Hill. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  8. Engle, Margarita. 2013. The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  
  9. Engle, Margarita. 2014. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 
  10. Flores-Scott, Patrick. 2013. Jumped In. Henry Holt. 
  11. Frost, Helen. 2013. Salt. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  12. Grimes, Nikki. 2013. Words with Wings. Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press. 
  13. Grimes, Nikki. 2011. Planet Middle School. Bloomsbury.
  14. Herrera, Juan Felipe. 2011. Skate Fate. HarperCollins. 
  15. Janeczko, Paul B. 2011. Requiem: Poems of the Terezín Ghetto. Candlewick. 
  16. Lai, Thanhha. 2011. Inside Out and Back Again. HarperCollins.
  17. Levy, Debbie. 2010. The Year of Goodbyes: A True Story of Friendship, Family and Farewells. Hyperion.
  18. Lewis, J. Patrick and Lyon, George Ella. 2014. Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963. Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
  19. MacDonald, Maryann. 2013. Odette’s Secrets. Bloomsbury.
  20. McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. 2011. Under the Mesquite. Lee & Low.
  21. Nagai, Mariko. 2014. Dust of Eden. Whitman. 
  22. Nelson, Marilyn. 2014. How I Discovered Poetry. Dial. 
  23. Newman, Lesléa. 2012. October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. Candlewick.
  24. Ostlere, Cathy. 2011. Karma. Razorbill.
  25. Pinkney, Andrea Davis. 2014. The Red Pencil. Little, Brown.
  26. Sax, Aline. 2013. The War Within These Walls. Eerdmans.
  27. Thompson, Holly. 2011. Orchards. Random House.
  28. Thompson, Holly. 2013. The Language Inside. Delacorte.
  29. Venkatramen, Padma. 2014. A Time to Dance. Penguin.
  30. Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. Penguin.
Sharing diverse novels in verse: ACTIVITIES
As we select and share these verse novels with students, we can use a variety of approaches to engage them in reading, listening to, performing, discussing, and understanding these works. Here are just a few ideas.
  1. Guide students in discussing the experience of reading or listening to an excerpt of the book read aloud in contrast with hearing a professional audio adaptation of the book. We can help students contrast what they “see” and “hear” when reading the text with what they perceive when they listen to a professional production. Look for these audiobook adaptations as examples: The Crossover, Caminar, The Weight of Water, Salt, Words with Wings, Planet Middle School, Inside Out and Back Again, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, The Red Pencil, and Brown Girl Dreaming. Does the audiobook version employ music or sound effects? What do these elements add to their understanding of the book? Is there a sole narrator, two narrators, or a full cast? How does that narrator use her/his voice to suggest character, create tension, or add emotion? How does listening to the audiobook enhance the understanding of cultural details, new names, and unfamiliar words?
  2. These diverse novels in verse can provide entrée into a discussion of culture, identity, roles, and expectations as depicted in literature. Work with students to identify cultural details in the verse novels they read that reveal specifics such as names, language/dialect, family structure, forms of address, foods, celebrations, musical references, and religious practices. Collaborate to research background information using nonfiction literature, websites, YouTube videos, local resources, community members, etc. Talk about the cross-section of similarities across cultures; their own and those they read about. Check out the discussion available on the “Official Campaign Tumblr” at the WeNeedDiverseBooks site: http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com.
  3. Lead students in creating a PowerPoint slide show presentation or simple digital trailer (using Animoto, Vimeo, or other sources) of an excerpt from a selected novel in verse. Use key words from the poem to guide the selection of pictures or images, as well as their interpretation of the scene. Then add the poem text and read the poem aloud as you view the slide show with the students. If possible, record the audio of the poem reading with a timed narration for the slide show. Consider adding relevant sound effects or a musical soundtrack as the background for a poem performance. Then play it for another class, in the library, at a public event like Open House, or air it on the school cable channel. 
  4. Novels in verse written from multiple points of view lend themselves readily to readers’ theater adaptation. Work with students to choose crucial excerpts for each character and then give them time to become familiar with their characters’ selections. Students read their selections aloud (with or without simple props) in sequence. Consider recording their reading in audio and/or video format to share with others. This is also an excellent moment for talking about “point of view,” particularly when each reader voices a different persona or character. In addition, for students who compete in UIL or other similar events or for oral interpretation practice in drama/theater class, use verse novel excerpts with monologues or dialogues for solo and duet performances.
  5. Talk with students about how a novel in verse is different from a prose novel (e.g., the use of white space, line breaks, poetic forms) and why an author might choose this verse format. Rewrite a poem page to show it in prose form for contrast. In many cases, the authors of these novels in verse incorporate a variety of poetic forms and types within the narrative, such as haiku, free verse, list poems, sonnets, invented formats, and more. Work with students to identify the specific type or form of your chosen verse novel(s) and talk about its distinctive features. Consider how the poem’s lines or stanzas fit into the overall structure of the poem and contribute to its meaning. Talk about why the poet might choose to include this particular form. If you have an ambitious group of students, try creating a short collaborative verse novel together, with everyone contributing poems on the same agreed-upon event with multiple perspectives or a chronological, sequential story with multiple authors.
I recently noticed that Monday, January 26, has been declared Multicultural Children’s Book Day! (Has that been around awhile and I just didn’t know?) Very excited to see this development, along with the WNDB movement (We Need Diverse Books). I’ll post more next Friday, too.

Meanwhile, join the crowd celebrating Poetry Friday at Live Your Poem hosted by the lovely Irene Latham. See you there!

Image credit: ALA;Jumpintoabook


Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2015. All rights reserved.

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45. Poet to Poet: Jane Yolen and Lesléa Newman

I'm pleased to post another installment in my ongoing "Poet to Poet" series in which one poet interviews another poet about her/his new book. This time it's Jane Yolen and Lesléa Newman who have very generously volunteered to participate.  <!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE <![endif]--> Lesléa has a powerful, heartbreakingly beautiful new book out just now, I Carry My Mother, a work for adults that has crossover appeal for teen readers too. 
Jane Yolen hardly needs an introduction, but I'm often surprised to find that people don't know about all the POETRY she has published. Her poetry for children includes these and more:
- Snow, Snow: Winter Poems for Children; Once Upon Ice and Other Frozen Poems, and more weather and seasonal poetry
- An Egret’s Day, Birds of a Feather, and many more wonderful bird-focused poetry books
- Mother Earth, Father Sky: Poems of Our Planet, Bug Off! Creepy Crawly Poems, and many more beautiful nature-themed poetry books
*Plus those very appealing "How Do Dinosaurs" books
*As well as collaborations with other poets such as:
- Self Portrait with Seven Fingers: A Life of Marc Chagall in Verse; Take Two! A Celebration of Twins both with J. Patrick Lewis
- Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy Tales with a Twist (and a forthcoming follow up book) both with Rebecca Kai Dotlich
- Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry both edited with Andrew Fusek Peter.

Her book for adults, The Radiation Sonnets, inspired Lesléa's new book, I Carry My Mother. Both focus on coping with the serious illness of a loved one-- such a tough topic-- but poetry is such good therapy.

Lesléa Newman may be best known for her groundbreaking book, Heather Has Two Mommies (which will be reissued this year!) and she has many other picture books to her credit, but her poetry is also very compelling and engaging. Did you read October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard? So powerful, such craftsmanship. And last year, she published Here is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays, a fun and engaging family treasure.

Jane read I Carry My Mother (and heard drafts read in the writers' group they share) and asked Lesléa several questions. Here we go. 

1. Mourning poems have a fine, long, old tradition. Did you think about that when choosing to write in forms?

The idea for the book was actually inspired by your collection, THE RADIATION SONNETS. I was so moved by both the poems themselves and the concept of a poet writing a poem each night after tucking a loved one who is ill into bed. So the first section of the book, which is a fifteen-part poem called “The Deal” and consists of triolets (a French form using a strict pattern of repetition and rhyme) was written while I was taking care of my mother. Each night for two weeks, after I’d tucked her into the hospital bed we’d set up in the living room, I’d climb upstairs, retreat to my childhood bedroom, and write a poem. After she died, I picked up my pen and began the second part of the book. It made sense to continue writing in form.

2. How long did the writing of the poems take, and when it ended was it like the lighting of a yahrzeit candle?

The poems took about a year, so yes, it was like lighting a yahrzeit candle. It was bittersweet because while I was writing, I felt my mom very close to me. She wanted to be a writer, and for various reasons never pursued it. I literally heard her voice in my ear while I was writing, encouraging me, and being proud of me. When I was finished writing the book, it was like losing her all over again.

3. I know you workshopped most of the poems, which could have felt like people stepping on your deepest emotions or taking flint and knife to your mourning. How did you sidestep such a feeling?

I have been writing poems for a really long time—half a century!—and I know that I am not the best judge of them. I am always grateful for honest, kind, thoughtful feedback which helps me make the poems the best they can be. I am also very careful about choosing my readers. For example, I trust the women in my writers’ group completely. I have learned to detach from my poems emotionally and just look at what’s on the page, almost as if someone else wrote them. You have to be tough on yourself! I tell my students that the first draft of a poem and the final draft of a poem resemble each other as much as a fish resembles a bicycle. I hold myself to the same standard. I am not my poems and my poems are not me. So it wasn’t difficult to receive feedback. Though it never fails: the lines that I am the most attached to are always the ones that need to be cut. And that can be hard. But only momentarily. Then I see that the cut actually improves the poem, and once again, I am impressed with my own brilliance!

4. You pull no punches. Some of the poems are relentless and unsparing—the pukes, moans, groans, asking for a pill to die. And yet even within the tough, gritty poems, your voice of love soars. I wonder which was harder—recording the disorderliness of your mother’s dying or chronicling your own shattered heart?

I definitely felt more emotional when I wrote about my own grief. While my mother was still alive, no matter what shape she was in, she was still among us, and she was still very much herself. Her absence leaves such a large hole. It is almost unbearable, even more than two years later. So the poems in the third section of the book, such as “Looking at Her” in which I describe applying makeup on my mom while she’s lying in her coffin, and “How To Bury Your Mother” were rather excruciating. But necessary.

5. There is anger in these poems, too, as when you say, “I am an orphan and not an orphan…” or the poem that ends with the thought that your mother, who died of a cancer brought on by cigarettes, had a life that had “gone up in smoke.”

It’s interesting that you read them that way. I don’t see the poems that way.  Which doesn’t mean you are reading the poems “incorrectly” as there is no right or wrong way to read a poem. I never felt anger about my mother’s illness and death. Lots and lots of sadness, and much despair, but never anger. My mother was very clear about her choices. She was also very smart. She knew the risks of smoking two packs a day for more than sixty years. When the doctor told her she had six months to live—actually he told me, and I was the one to tell her—my mother absorbed the news and then said matter-of-factly, “Everyone dies of something. This is my something.” She felt no anger. I felt no anger. Only sorrow.

6. And then there is a sprinkle of galgenhumor—gallow’s humor. My favorite of these is the Seussical: “Pills.” Were those written to lighten the book or because you needed a moment of playfulness to hold yourself together?

Humor is a tool of survival that I inherited from my mother. Actually everyone in my family uses humor—often self-depreciating humor—to get by. One day I was thinking about all the pills my mother had to take and I tried writing a poem in the voice of her pills but that didn’t work. Often when something doesn’t work on the page, something else emerges. What emerged was the poem “Pills” which of course is modeled after Dr. Seuss’ poem, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” The start of the poem is amusing:

One pill
two pills 
red pills
blue pills

Then the poem turns darker, though still maintains its humor:

pills so that her blood won’t clot
pills so that her brain won’t rot
pills to only take with food
pills to change her rotten mood

And the poem ends with no humor at all:

pills that make her stomach churn
pills that make her insides burn
pills that make her wonder why
she has no pill to help her die

In a way a poem like this is more devastating than the others because the tension between the lightness of the form and the heaviness of the content pulls at the heartstrings in a very painful way. But to answer your question, the whole book held me together, both while my mom was dying and afterwards. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t write poems. Writing poems has gotten me through all the tough times in my life. I am exceedingly grateful that I have this outlet and that the poems often resonate and offer comfort to others.

+++ 

THANK YOU, Jane and Lesléa-- for this wonderful exchange. I really feel like I'm eavesdropping on two friends talking deeply about a serious subject, but with the care and lightness of a long friendship. What a privilege! 

Now head on over to A Teaching Life where Tara is hosting this week's Poetry Friday gathering. 
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46. Happy Puzzle Day!

The word is out...

Our next installment in The Poetry Friday Anthology series will be published in March! And to whet your appetite for The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, here is the poem for January 29 (today!):

And here are the Take 5! activities that accompany this poem:
Sample puzzle from National Geographic.com/games
1. Hold up a single piece from a (jigsaw) puzzle and ask children to guess what it is from. Then read this poem aloud slowly.
2. Invite everyone to join in on the final line (“a puzzling scene”) while you read the poem aloud again.
3. Just for fun, work together to complete an online jigsaw puzzle. One source: NationalGeographic.com/games/photo-puzzle-jigsaw/
4. Pair this poem with this picture book: Hide-and-Seek Science: Animal Camouflage (Holiday House, 2013) by Emma Stevenson, and guide children in finding the hidden animals within each ecosystem to celebrate National Puzzle Day.
5. For another poem about 100 things, look for the poem “My 100th Day Collection” by Betsy Franco (mid-January to mid-February, pages 38-39) and for riddle and puzzle poems, check out Kindergarten Kids: Riddles, Rebuses, Wiggles, Giggles, and More! by Stephanie Calmenson (HarperCollins, 2005).

In a nutshell, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations offers:
  • 156 new, unpublished poems by 115 poets
  • poems tied to holidays, celebrations, historic events, and wacky occasions across the calendar year
  • all the poems in both English and Spanish
  • Take 5! activities for sharing every poem with children
  • every poem paired with a picture book to read aloud for a story time or lesson plan
  • skill connections (for CCSS, TEKS, and NCSS)
  • poems appropriate for children preK-5 (and beyond)

Pre-order your copy today here. And for more info go here.


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47. Notable (Poetry) Books for a Global Society 2015

Just this week the IRA (now ILA) committee (for CL/R) announced it's latest list of "Notable Books for a Global Society." I was so pleased that they included 8 poetry books on their list of 25 titles published in 2014. Let's see which ones they highlighted, shall we?

Caminar
Harlem Hellfighters
Silver People
Voices from the March
Brown Girl Dreaming
Like Water on Stone
The Red Pencil
A Time to Dance

The pdf of the annotated list complete with book covers here:

I noticed that these are all novels in verse (except Harlem Hellfighters)! Which is lovely, but where are the anthologies that reflect global world views and connections? That's the next challenge for us! But each of these books is truly distinctive, beautifully written and offers a fascinating window into a culturally rich story. Don't miss them!

Here's complete bibliographic info for these 8 titles:

Brown, Skila. 2014. Caminar.Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Engle, Margarita. 2014. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2014. Harlem Hellfighters. Mankato, MN: Creative Editions.
Lewis, J. Patrick and Lyon, George Ella. 2014. Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Pinkney, Andrea Davis. The Red Pencil.  New York: Little, Brown.

Venkatraman, Padma. 2014. A Time to Dance. New York: Penguin.
Walrath, Dana. 2014. Like Water on Stone. New York: Delacorte.
Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Penguin.

If you want more information about this SIG (Special Interest Group) and the history of the Notables list, here's a nugget from their website:

"The Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association formed the Notable Books for a Global Society Committee in 1995. Under the guidance of Yvonne Siu-Runyan, who originated and spearheaded the project, the committee undertook to identify outstanding trade books that it felt would help promote understanding across lines of culture, race, sexual orientation, values, and ethnicity.

The Notable Books for a Global Society (NBGS) list was developed to help students, teachers, and families identify books that promote understanding of and appreciation for the world's full range of diverse cultures and ethnic and racial groups. Although advances in technology allow us to communicate quickly with people around the world and the growth of world trade brings us increasingly into contact with far-flung members of the "global village," today's society is rife with tension, conflict and ignorance of others different from us. If we hope to meet the many challenges that face us in the 21st century, we must recognize the similarities and celebrate the differences among all races, cultures, religions, and sexual orientations, and appreciate that people can hold a wide range of equally legitimate values.

Each year, the Committee selects twenty-five outstanding books for grades K-12 that reflect a pluralistic view of world society. These twenty-five titles represent the year’s best in fiction, nonfiction and poetry."


Plus criteria for selection are there as well as all the lists since 2010.

Well done, Chair Janet Wong and committee members!

I'm heading to the Midwinter conference of the American Library Association where more big (Newbery, Caldecott, etc.) awards will be announced on Monday (Feb. 2). I'll be sure to post news about any poetry titles that are included! Stay tuned. 

Meanwhile, where is the Poetry Friday party today? Over at These Four Corners. Thanks for hosting, Paul!  

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48. Poetry = Newbery

It was so exciting to be in the audience when the awards were announced this morning and POETRY books were at the top of the list!

The Newbery award went to... The Crossover by Kwame Alexander!
Which was also recognized with a Coretta Scott King author honor award
You'll find the guide for this book here.

Newbery honors: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson which also won:

  • Coretta Scott King Author Award
  • Sibert Honor Award
You'll find a "Poet to Poet" interview between Carole Boston Weatherford and Jacqueline Woodson here.


To reiterate, the Coretta Scott King Author award went to Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

Coretta Scott King author honor awards went to:

  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson

And poet, author, and literacy advocate Pat Mora will deliver the 2016 May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture, perfect timing with the 20th anniversary of Día de los Niños/Día de los Libros (Children's Day/Book Day)!

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49. Poet-a-Palooza for SCIENCE!

I'm so excited to report that the amazing Renée La Tulippe from the fabulous No Water River site is featuring The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science today-- complete with videos of seven poets reading their poems from the anthology. If you haven't ever visited No Water River, do it now. Here's the link!

I'll wait. 

She is really creating a rich resource that supports poetry sharing and teaching. I especially love the video component-- so fun for kids (and adults!). Here's a link to my previous post about "How to use NoWaterRiver in the classroom

She is also a poet herself, author of Lizard Lou: A Collection of Poems Old and New, and contributor to our anthologies, too. And she teaches a very popular online writing course, the Lyrical Language Lab

In case I haven't bombarded you enough with information about our book, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science, it features 218 new, original poems for children in grades K-5 written by 78 different poets who specialize in poetry for young people. Plus, we have tied the poems to the Next Generation Science Standards and offer Take 5 activities that help you connect poems and science skills (as well as CCSS and TEKS skills in reading/language arts). It earned the National Science Teachers Association "seal of approval" and rave reviews from science author extraordinaire Seymour Simon, among others.

And here are the individual links to poet videos on YouTube in case that is helpful.

Renée also provides many more links to all the poets who contributed to the book and much, much more. Her posts are a one-stop shop for fantastic poetry teaching tools!

Thank you, poets, for your poems AND your videos and thank you, Renée, for creating this wonderful forum for HEARING poems read aloud!

Now head on over to Merely Day by Day where Cathy is hosting Poetry Friday.

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50. Poet to Poet: Allan Wolf and Leslie Bulion


It's time for another installment of my Poet to Poet interview series. This time, Allan Wolf is asking Leslie Bulion some fun questions about her new book, Random Body Parts.


First, you may know Allan Wolf, author, poet, performer, and educator who lives in North Carolina and travels around the country (collecting hotel toiletries and) presenting poetry to audiences of all ages. He was the educational director for Poetry Alive for many years and is one of the driving forces behind that national Poetry Slam movement. He's the author of several books including the historical novels in verse, New Found Land and The Watch that Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic, as well as More Than Friends: Poems from Him and Her (with Sara Holbrook) and Immersed in Verse: An Informative, Slightly Irreverent & Totally Tremendous Guide to Living the Poet's Life. His book, The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems about Our Parts, is one of my favorites and the main reason I thought of pairing him with Leslie since both have books of poetry about the human body-- a rare and special treat! 


Leslie Bulion was born in New York City and graduated from Cornell University with a degree in biology and society and became a social worker. She has also attended the University of Rhode Island and received an M.S. in Oceanography and Southern Connecticut State University receiving a Masters in Social Work. Her first children’s book, Fatuma’s New Cloth was inspired by her family’s travels in Africa and received the 2003 Children’s Africana Book Award. Here books of poetry include Hey There, Stink Bug; At the Sea Floor Café; Odd Ocean Critter Poems, and her latest, Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse.

Allan kicks things off right away:

Allan: First off, Leslie, I must get a little bit “fanboy” on you and tell you that I love your latest collection of poems, Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse. I mean, honestly, you had me from “borborygmus.” (For those of you who have been living under a rock, borborygmus—bor/bor/RIG/mus—is the growling sound made by your stomach and intestines as they digest your food.)

Question One:
Random Body Parts is what I’d call “anacomically correct.” That is to say, the poems are not just funny, they are also accurate and informative. Your book is obviously well researched, requiring you to transform “informational text” into “literary text.” Do you find it difficult to transform real facts into fantastical verse? How do you find the right balance between accuracy and entertainment?

Leslie: Incredibly kind words coming from the poet who penned The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems About Our Parts, Allan--thank you! And the credit for "borborygmus" goes to my friend, author-illustrator Deborah Freedman (newest: By Mouse and Frog) who bestowed that borbor-gorgeous word upon me in early days of Random Body Parts--a gift she knew would be fully appreciated. Speaking of fabulous phrases, I'm adopting "anacomically correct" as the official Random Body Parts tagline. 

As a kindred wordplay spirit, I find the lexicon of science perfect fodder for writing what I hope will be funny and informative poetry. Science words have their own wonderful parts, are inherently rhythmic, and lend themselves to rhyme surprises. Those surprises are often the source of humor--they're funny to hear and fun to say. I tend to focus on one or two ideas to tell a science story using juicy words and captivating ideas I discover while researching my subjects. The natural world IS fantastical, so there is no shortage of science stories to inspire--no need to make it up! 

Allan: Question Two:
Random Body Parts combines poetry, prose, riddles, diagrams and pictures. It also includes extensive back matter including a glossary of anatomy terms, a bibliography, and detailed notes on the various poetic forms you’ve included: sonnets, haikus, cinquains, and double dactyls to name a few. And if that isn’t enough, each of the book’s poems also has some intentional connection to William Shakespeare! 

Do you think children’s poetry books today are expected to “do” more, and “be” more, than poetry books of the past?

Leslie: This is an interesting question, Allan. I think all genres of writing for children change, over time, don't you? As an example, "slice of life" picture books with minimal story arc, once popular, are not as big in today's market. I dislike hearing "quiet book" in its current pejorative iteration, but we all know books of poetry and prose that might not have made it into print following current trends. I do think children's poetry collections in today's market benefit from a clear and unique focus, which helps define and distinguish the poet's voice or the anthologist's sensibilities. 

There are, of course, beautiful, current collections of poetry for children that don't have, and certainly don't need to have as many elements as I've crammed into Random Body Parts. When I start each new poetry collection, I seem to add a layer--some new twist. I've probably already caused head-shaking in editorial quarters, and if I continue in this vein my tenth collection will be more back matter than book body. 

But at some level there is a method to my madness, because there are many different types of readers out there and I'm interested in all of them: those who'll devour a poem, and those who'll gravitate toward the prose science note. Those who will look up every science word in the glossary, those who will be flinging around Shakespearean phrases by the end of the day, and those who will pore over the brilliant illustrations--I hope to share my fascination with science with all of them, and to make reading and writing poetry approachable and fun on many levels.

Allan: Question Three (or is this four questions in one?):
You are also the author of middle grade novels. Can you move from one discipline to the other fluidly? Or is it more complicated? What can poetry do that prose cannot? When do you feel like poetry is the perfect tool for the writing task at hand?

Leslie: I am something of a logical-sequential type. My preference is NOT to multi-task; I like to start one job and work to its completion. I do not work on a novel in the morning and write poems in the afternoon--my gears won't switch like that. For me, writing a novel is immersive. I have a difficult time picking up my writing flow after vacation or Thanksgiving--lots of rereading and wheel-spinning. But life does intervene; I've (mostly) learned to expect it. I try not to worry overmuch as I work my way back into the heads, hearts and voices of my characters. 

When I'm researching a poetry collection, that experience tends to be somewhat immersive too, because I'm trying to assimilate a body of knowledge--the big picture. I need a lot of background information to help me shape my approach and subsequent selections for individual poem subjects. Once my research is mostly done, working on a poetry collection is a bit more forgiving in terms of dealing with interruptions. If I've internalized the big idea, I can break between poems, then resume without losing too much ground. 

Poetry and science both embody elegance: an idea honed to its core of communication, so they're a natural fit, don't you think? My writing process includes careful selection of poetic form to enhance each science story. I try to choose forms that are accessible to readers and to writers. I hope students will want to choose from the variety of forms I include to tell their own juicy science story in verse. 

Each poem I write could include a whole book as further science reading, so when I add prose, I try to limit those science notes to the information that deepens and enhances the poem's specific ideas, rather than an exhaustive treatise on the overall subject. I go back to those prose notes and cut, cut, CUT. I try to be as ruthless as when I'm jettisoning...er...saving photos for a vacation album: I only need one shot to remind me that I caught my husband with this oldie riddle:

Thanks so much for your thought-provoking questions, Allan, and for sharing this space with me!

Sylvia: Thank you both, Allan and Leslie, for engaging in this entertaining AND enlightening back-and-forth dialogue! 

Now join the Poetry Friday gathering over at Author Amok hosted by Laura this week.

And don't miss the March Madness fun over at ThinkKidThink where poets are rising to the challenge of a poetry tournament!



Image credits: Amazon, Flickr, Leslie Bulion, Peachtree, Allan Wolf

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